TikTok Removes 284 Accounts Linked to Chinese Disinformation Campaign

TikTok has taken action by removing 284 accounts associated with a Chinese disinformation campaign following concerns raised by Guardian Australia.

The revelation came shortly after Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, reported the shutdown of nearly 9,000 Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to a Chinese political spam network. This campaign had targeted users in Australia and various parts of the world.


Meta’s Investigation Uncovers Widespread Influence Operation


Meta’s investigation into the Chinese disinformation campaign unearthed a complex web of activity on over 50 online platforms and forums. These platforms included YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, Medium, Blogspot, Livejournal, and X (formerly Twitter), in addition to Instagram and Facebook.

The disinformation network consistently posted content that portrayed China and Xinjiang province in a positive light while casting negative aspersions on the US, western foreign policies, and critics of the Chinese government, including journalists and researchers.


TikTok’s Involvement


TikTok’s role in the disinformation campaign became evident when Guardian Australia observed videos on the platform that focused on responding to reports of forced labour in Xinjiang and Taiwan. Although most of these videos had low viewership, some had tens of thousands of views. Guardian Australia provided links to four TikTok accounts associated with the campaign, which were still active at the time.

In response to this discovery, TikTok took action by banning 284 accounts linked to the operation, citing violations of the company’s policies against covert influence operations.


TikTok’s Response and Future Reporting


TikTok’s spokesperson did not offer a direct explanation for why these accounts were not detected earlier. However, TikTok’s countering influence policy emphasises a focus on behaviour and linkages between accounts, aiming to identify efforts to mislead the platform’s systems or its community.

These takedowns are expected to be detailed in TikTok’s upcoming quarterly community guidelines enforcement report.



Experts’ Perspectives and ASPI’s Offer to Collaborate


Fergus Ryan, a senior analyst in cyber technology and security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), welcomed TikTok’s actions but suggested that the platform should have acted proactively.

ASPI has been actively monitoring “Spamouflage” accounts on TikTok for the past year. Ryan noted that many major social media platforms have acknowledged covert operations linked to the Chinese state, but TikTok had not made similar disclosures. He expressed ASPI’s willingness to collaborate with TikTok to analyse and identify covert influence operations.

Albert Zhang, an ASPI analyst who co-authored a report on the Spamouflage operation earlier this year, highlighted that some of the identified accounts were still active on TikTok. He called for greater transparency from TikTok and urged the platform to follow Meta’s lead in disclosing state-backed influence operations as an industry standard.


TikTok’s Ongoing Controversies


TikTok has faced controversy in several countries due to concerns about its connections to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Australia, the UK, and the US have imposed bans on TikTok or raised questions about its links to the CCP. TikTok has consistently denied claims of such ties or CCP influence on its content.


Australian Parliamentary Committee Recommendations


An Australian parliamentary committee, chaired by James Paterson, the shadow home affairs and cybersecurity minister, recently recommended extending the TikTok ban to government contractors. Additionally, it suggested considering measures similar to the US, which might require TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to divest itself from owning the social media platform.

In conclusion, TikTok’s removal of 284 accounts connected to a Chinese disinformation campaign underscores the ongoing challenges and concerns surrounding the platform’s operations and its relationship with the Chinese government. It also highlights the importance of transparency and collaboration in addressing such issues in the evolving landscape of social media.